An editorial in the Chinese-language daily China Times a few days ago pushing for dialogue between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) made me think. As the editorial pointed out, a lot of people have started to discuss whether the two will meet after both have behaved so courteously toward one other: Ma by being quick to congratulate Su on his election as DPP chairperson and Su by making it clear that he is not averse to meeting with Ma. The newspaper backed its editorial with a poll showing that 66 percent of respondents would look favorably on them meeting.
Ma is the sitting president and chairman of the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Su is the chairman of the largest opposition party and a possible candidate for the next presidential election. Given the current domestic political and economic chaos and surging public discontent, both the KMT and the DPP should give up their party biases. The former should abandon its arrogance and deal with issues in a humble and responsible manner, while the latter should stop acting as if it is taking pleasure in the current national difficulties because “the worse the national situation is, the better it is for us.” They need to instead think about what the public needs. This is the attitude that responsible political leaders from both parties should adopt.
However, such a meeting would only be the first step toward resolving the deadlock between the pan-blue and pan-green camps. To be more exact, now is the time to hold a national affairs conference. This is the only way Ma and Su will be able to live up to public expectations.
Ma and his administration should, publicly and impartially, seek out the sources of public dissatisfaction, find out what the people want and then make this the foundation of a national affairs conference. A national affairs conference should discuss a wide scope of issues that concern the public, such as: legislative and judicial reform, distribution of fiscal resources price stability, land-use planning and so on.
Calling a meeting between Ma and Su and a national affairs conference of course does not mean that every single issue will be resolved. The main goal of these moves would be to open the channels of communication and determine the most pertinent issues affecting the nation and their possible solutions. A democratic government must endeavour to gain an understanding of public hardship, listen to public opinion and find ways to allow the public to express their opinions to the government. Also, in this way Ma would not have to stay on top of every single issue. Things could be delegated so that different levels of government remain in charge of their respective issues. This would improve government efficiency.
Holding a national affairs conference could also set a democratic precedent and establish a “fire lane” for the government to access suggestions from various sectors of society when policy sets off a public confidence crisis. This mechanism would remove biases and put an end to the illusion that decisions are made solely by the elite. Being able to choose between several suggestions would remove obstacles to policy implementation and would also offer a way to spread decisionmaking risks. The DPP would be able to use this to gain an understanding of the positions of different factions and individuals on government policy. Ideas gathered in this manner could be used as a reference if the party returns to power, thus avoiding framing Taiwan’s future in terms of the DPP’s existing ideology.